Photos from left courtesy of Jorge Gera, Nick Cormier and Caroline Foreman
Grant, Mike and Phil (from left) are three gentleman of the business world who enjoy expressive clothing.
We have all heard the phrase “work-life balance,” referring to the desirous state of seamlessly enjoying both a satisfying professional role and a fulfilling personal life outside the workplace.
What about a “work-fashion balance” in the wardrobe department? Can professionals harness respectable work attire along with the opportunity to express their own sense of style and creativity? While womenswear arguably offers more flexibility of options, men’s professional attire has faced a stricter standardization. What does “business casual” mean for the modern man?
Recently, I embarked on this quest to discover how stylish men approach dressing in the workplace in order to be at once empowered, respectful, modern, and stylish. I also sought to uncover how the modern man defines business casual today. In this Fashion Chat, I interviewed three chaps, each 27 years old and a player in the fast-paced Chicago business world.
Phil Cavin, a product developer for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, favors comfort, versatility, and always looking presentable. Mike Young serves as the Process Improvement Manager at GrubHub and presents himself with thoughtful style expressions. Finally, menswear designer for Daniel George, freelance stylist and model Grant McNamara, chooses a less-is-more approach of simplicity with an edge.
For the workplace, Mike said, he usually dresses in a “button-down with slacks or dark jeans and dress shoes.” He explained, “My dad told me at a young age that the way you dress will not make you smarter, but can earn you respect from strangers you encounter at work or elsewhere.” His approach to business casual attire is thoughtful yet genuine. He says, “It’s hard to argue against the fact that a lot of people judge others based on what they are wearing.”
In describing the type of pieces he selects, Mike said, “I often try to express that I can be serious, trustworthy, and professional while being approachable at the same time with light colors and patterned shirts.”
Next, Phil described his office wardrobe choice: “I have a tendency to be more classic…I like the nice dress slacks and button-downs or a nice polo to go with it. I like to be myself and be comfortable and versatile. I look and see what’s out there in the industry, and I take what I like and integrate it in. The older I get, the more I’m willing to experiment. So I’ll do the bright colors, athletic cuts, or add more accessories now.” Phil described a few of his favorite pieces to be shirts of bright colors like yellow, neon green, or bright purple and said, “I’ve gotten the joke that I belong on a construction site quite a bit from co-workers.” Initially, his facial hair and modern variation of the fade haircut spawned a barrage of feedback from his mostly older coworkers.
Though the standard business casual requirements of his office could become mundane, Phil retains an ever-respectful presentation while following his preferences. “If I like it then I’ll wear it. It doesn’t matter the brand, the style, whatever appeals to me,” he said.
Finally, the daily opportunity for expression is never lost on Grant. “I switch it up during the week at work and either wear a suit or sport jacket,” he added. “I’m never wearing a black suit. If it’s not an evening event or a funeral, you shouldn’t be in black.” In all settings, Grant creatively express himself through his clothing and accessories. “I love putting new outfits together. For work, I love mixing classic menswear ideals with a more modern touch to it,” and he explained, “It just stands out as different, but is timeless and elegant…I prefer standing out by the thoughtfulness of an outfit and all the details. That’s where I get creative and have fun.”
Grant then addressed the pressing matter straight on: the state of modern business casual dressing. He emphasized the value of impeccable fit and tailoring, and described, “More modern blues and grays are where it’s at — dark jeans or a nice color, or trousers and a blazer or sport jacket. You don’t have to spend $300 on a shoe, but you can find really cool ones online at sites like Gilt and MyHabit.” Grant also shared some of his tips for modern styling: “Conservative colors pair well together. Neutral and conservative colors, minimal patterns, stripes or prints. I’m always wearing bracelets and adding simple things to my outfit. A navy shoe is an awesome way to make any simple outfit better.” Grant likes “doing something different, like having a bunch of bracelets and jewelry, a suede belt that doesn’t match your shoes; things that break norms but are very subtle.”
These lads each uniquely elucidated the world of modern dressing in a business-casual style. While the standards are still heightened with the call for professionalism, each individual seeks to present himself in a sleek yet earnest way. The business casual office inclusively welcomes thoughtfulness, fun expressions, and empowering styling. Men can engage varieties of accessories, and also understand the subtleties and express more individuality with small details. Modernity applauds both professionalism and personality.
Caroline Foreman is a fashion model, writer and critic.